Saturday 25 January 2020

Anne-Elizabeth Moutet: Sarkozy a victim of hostility to much-needed French reforms

Anne-Elizabeth Moutet

I shall be sorry to see Nicolas Sarkozy go. His defeat, if it truly comes to that in two weeks' time -- and nobody should entirely discount his dogged tenacity -- will have been a fiasco of style over substance.

Sarko campaigned five years ago by telling the French that he would not cosset them. Their standard of living would rise, he said, if they worked harder. Even before the financial crisis changed everything in 2008, you should have heard the screams and guffaws of the people who, early on, had decided he was an insufferable oik.

For 12 years, successive cabinets had carefully avoided any "courageous" decisions that might cause the French to strike and take to the streets. By "the French", I really mean civil servants and state employees who have tenure for life.

This was because, a couple of months after Jacques Chirac's election in 1995, public services ground to a halt for almost two months in protest at a pretty mild reform of the country's generous pension system. Mr Chirac fired his PM and decided never to try to push an unpopular reform again.

It took Mr Sarkozy to tackle, and pass, that pensions reform. He harped on the fact that in 1945, when the system was mooted, eight workers paid for one retiree's pension. Today it's only two, and people live 18 years longer on average. The mandatory pension age was lowered from 65 to 60 by another Socialist government, under Francois Mitterrand. The situation was untenable. Despite the usual moaning , the reform -- which Francois Hollande, Sarkozy's Socialist rival who's leading in the polls, has vowed to reverse -- was accepted.

Next to this, and other necessary measures -- not to mention a willingness to act in Libya and Ivory Coast -- do I truly care that Mr Sarkozy has a questionable taste in women, wristwatches and restaurants? It takes the supercilious graduates of ENA, the elite government school that gives France most of her politicians, mandarins and a couple of star editors, to sniff at his "bling" appetites.

Although I come from a Socialist French family, I like Sarko. His values of physical and political courage, of hard work, of plain-speaking; his love for France; his sense of duty resonate far more with what I was brought up to respect than Mr Hollande's envious, hidebound, little-France rhetoric. (©Daily Telegraph, London).

Irish Independent

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